Remember the old tale about the tortoise and the hare? It’s the story about the hare that ridicules a slow-moving tortoise and is challenged by him to a race. The hare soon leaves the tortoise in the dust and confident of winning, takes a nap midway through the course. When he awakes he finds that his competitor, crawling slowly but steadily, has arrived before him.
This is an apt metaphor for healing. The Sympathetic Nervous System** (SNS) “Fight or Flight” represents the hare and the Parasympathetic Nervous System**(PSNS) “Feed and Breed” represents the tortoise. Most of us wind up with health problems because of the stress of over-doing. The SNS is in charge, always at the ready! Then, when we find ourselves in a heap, fatigued and burnt out we try to approach our healing with the same vim and vigor. “I’ll take an arsenal of supplements!” “I’ll do yoga every day!” “I’ll get massage every week!” “I’ll do a cleanse and detoxify myself!” “I’ll Do it all!”
Each of these on its own or in sane combination can be just what we need. However, the problem with this approach is that in order to actually heal we need to shift into tortoise mode-we need to access the PSNS on a consistent basis throughout our lives. Otherwise, all we are doing is switching one set of problems for another, albeit more “healthy”, set of problems. We are gobbling up “self-care” in order to maintain our current lifestyle when the current lifestyle is inherently the underlying problem. The hare approach could work, for a while. Maybe we maintain and don’t get any sicker but it is not where healing happens.
Healing happens as the result of a switch from fast and furious hare to slow and steady tortoise. When slow and steady becomes the predominant mode, fast and furious is accessible to us when we need it. It is impossible to maintain the hare mode indefinitely without suffering. Often, it is our health that suffers. We all have an inner hare and tortoise. The problem is, our culture doesn’t value our inner tortoise very much, thus the hare gets harried.
When you find yourself ready to make a change in your life because you don’t feel as well as you think you should, consider adopting the approach of the tortoise. Set your overarching intention- “I want to feel…” Then slowly, but ever so consistently make a plan for that change. Be sure, absolutely sure, to put REST at the top of that list. Restful sleep is fundamental to any significant change. So, for example, if your issue is sleep-start there first. Try to avoid the temptation to eat copious quantities of sugar, slog coffee and take a million supplements that boost your energy because you can’t sleep-cultivate sleep! Overall, focus on supplements, herbs and therapies that give you access to your inner tortoise, the PSNS.
You’ve got the rest of your life ahead of you and the secret that they don’t want you to know is…iT’S ACTUALLY NOT A RACE! 😉
** Merck Manual gives this simple definition of the two branches of the nervous system:
Sympathetic division: Its main function is to prepare the body for stressful or emergency situations—for fight or flight.
Parasympathetic division: Its main function is to prepare the body for ordinary situations.
These divisions work together, usually with one activating and the other inhibiting the actions of internal organs. For example, the sympathetic division increases pulse, blood pressure, and breathing rates, and the parasympathetic system decreases each of them.
Shelly Shelley LMP